Mr. Speaker, earlier this year, the Prime Minister and his Liberal government decided to give nearly $400 million of taxpayer money to bail out Bombardier, which is a Montreal-based aerospace firm here in Canada. As a Conservative, of course, I disagree with this use of taxpayer dollars to rescue a private corporation from its own financial mismanagement, but that is beside the point. What is on point, however, is the fact that while Bombardier was wailing about the possibility of going under, the company was simultaneously giving large bonuses to its executive members.
One might ask what Bombardier has to do with autism, the topic at hand today. The answer is simple. In their 2017 budget, the Liberals cut funding that was supposed to go toward the formation of the Canadian autism partnership. The partnership requires a modest $19 million over the course of five years. That is less than $4 million per year. That is less than half of what the Bombardier executives are currently making in bonuses.
The government that says it represents the middle class is in fact taking money from the middle class to give big payouts to companies like Bombardier and its top executives. We are actually taking money from the middle class and giving it to the wealthiest among us. Meanwhile, the Liberal government cannot seem to find $19 million, which is a meagre amount, in light of what I am talking about with regard to Bombardier, for those families that need it most, those that are impacted by autism.
To be frank, I believe this is an injustice, not only to these families but to all Canadians, not because all are impacted by autism but actually because society functions best when all of its members are given opportunities to reach their full potential.
In Canada right now, one in 68 children are diagnosed with autism. This number actually goes to one in 48 among boys. More than 500,000 Canadians are living with autism today, and it is the fastest-growing and diagnosed neurological disorder in the country.
Autism is a brain condition associated with poor social skills and has a wide range of symptoms, including communication difficulties; social and behavioural challenges, including obsessive behaviour; and hypersensitivity to sound, light, or other sensory stimulation. While the autism of a computer scientist might go unnoticed, at the other end of the spectrum, one-quarter of those with autism are entirely non-verbal.
Autism is a condition that defies simple generalizations. It is not a condition for which we can put people in a box and define them one way or another. Like all individuals, those who have autism have their own personalities, interests, skills, abilities, passions, and potential.
I want to focus on potential. Canada is a land of potential. It is a place where we bring refugees in from all over the world to give them the opportunity to realize the raw potential that lies within them. Every Canadian deserves this opportunity. Like you and me, those who live with autism possess greatness within them. They are intelligent, they are creative, and they are lively, and there is something wonderful in each of them to give back and contribute to this great country we call home. However, unfortunately, their potential often goes untapped.
About half of those with autism are of average or above-average intelligence, yet very few actually graduate from high school, and of course, even fewer go on to complete post-secondary education. Approximately 25% of those with autism are employed, and only 6% are competitively employed. These numbers are very concerning to me, because they represent a tragic loss, a loss to our society, when we could actually be benefiting and enjoying the potential of each of these individuals if they were given the right support.
Sadly, hundreds of thousands of people actually live rather idle and isolated lives, because they are forced to do so. Families struggle to know how to best support their loved ones, because there just are not the resources or the research to back up those resource developments. These families are actually in significant need of help. The help they are asking for at the moment takes the form of the Canadian autism partnership.
Do these individuals not deserve more? Do they not deserve an opportunity to function at their greatest possible potential? Particularly in light of the Bombardier bailout, I believe this is a very small and common-sense request.
What are my Conservative colleagues and I are asking for? We are asking that the Minister of Health acknowledge that individuals with autism and their families face very unique challenges in life, and these challenges span over a lifetime. They often result in a crisis situation due to the condition, and families then have to deal with those.
Furthermore, as I stated earlier, autism is not just a health issue for the individual and his or her family members and loved ones. It actually has overarching implications for Canadian society as a whole. My colleague, the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent said earlier that this was not an autism issue, that this was a Canadian issue. He said it well. It is not something that we can just put on those families or those individuals who have to wrestle with autism and find the necessary supports in order to live a life with autism. It is not just on them. The onus is on us as a society.
To be quite frank, the loss is ours as well. Again, these individuals possess such great potential.
Accordingly, those of us on this side of the House are calling on the government to grant $19 million over 5 years, as requested by the Canadian autism partnership working group, Self-Advocates Advisory Group, and the Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorders Alliance. We are asking for this in order to establish a Canadian autism partnership that would support families and address key issues such as information sharing and research, early detection, diagnosis, and treatment government.
Mostly, we are calling on the government to believe, as we do, that those who live with autism have tremendous potential and should be empowered to function according to the greatness that lies within each and every one of them.
In 2015, the Conservative government provided $2 million to support the development of a Canadian autism partnership. A working group was created and it was mandated to come back to the government with a proposal for best steps forward. Over the course of 16 months, it did just that. At the end of 2016, it made a proposal for the 2017 budget.
The request of the working group was moderate and reasonable. The working group asked for $19 million over five years. With this money, a national partnership would be formed between organizations from coast to coast. The focus of its work would be to represent the entire Canadian autism community, speaking with one voice and acting in unity to assist this community in living vibrant lives.
Sadly, the current government chose to ignore this noteworthy request and the work that was accomplished by this group. It struck its request from budget considerations.
This is very disheartening. We have the opportunity to support a grassroots initiative, where more than 5,000 individuals gave their feedback on what this partnership should look like, and were willing to do the groundwork. We also have the opportunity to empower people to reach their full potential. We also have the opportunity to support the vulnerable. We also have the opportunity to facilitate an environment where all people are given equal opportunity to prosper.
Our Conservative government, under the leadership of Stephen Harper, believed in the potential of those who lived with a disability. I will name a few thing we did during our time in government.
We increased the landmark registered disability savings plan. We invested $218 million per year for labour market agreements for persons with disabilities. We invested $30 million annually in the opportunities fund to help persons with disabilities prepare for and obtain meaningful employment. We supported caregivers and recognized the incredible contributions they made by creating a tax incentives. We provided $15 million over three years to the ready, willing and able initiative of the Canadian Association for Community Living in order to connect persons with disabilities to a job. We invested $11.4 million over four years to support the expansion of vocational training programs for persons with autism spectrum disorders. We removed the GST and the HST on more health care products and services. Last, we expanded tax relief under the medical expense tax credit.
We believe in the potential of each and every individual, including those who live with a disability. We call upon the current government to believe with us in the potential of those who live each and every day with autism and their family members, who need the assistance of the government through this partnership.